About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks for "Bluff City: The Secret Life of Photographer Ernest Withers"

Welcome Remarks for "Bluff City: The Secret Life of Photographer Ernest Withers"
McGowan Theater, National Archives Building, Washington, DC
February 5, 2019

Good afternoon. I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and I’m pleased to welcome you to our first program of African American History Month. Whether you are here in the William G. McGowan Theater or joining us through Facebook or YouTube, we’re glad you could join us.

Before we hear from Preston Lauterbach about his new book Bluff City: The Secret Life of Photographer Ernest Withers, I’d like to let you know about two other programs coming up next week here in the McGowan Theater.

On Monday February 11, at noon, Kara Dixon Vuic will be here to talk about her new book: The Girls Next Door: Bringing the Home Front to the Front Lines, which tells the story of the young women who volunteered to help and entertain American servicemen fighting overseas, from World War I through the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

And on Thursday, February 14, at noon, we will be screening the documentary film Chisholm ’72: Unbought and Unbossed, which takes an in-depth look at the 1972 Presidential campaign of Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress and the first to seek nomination for the Presidency. Chisholm’s 1969 oath of office is now on display in the East Rotunda Gallery, two floors above us.

Please go to our website, Archives.gov, or sign up at the table outside the theater to get email updates. You’ll also find information about other National Archives programs and activities.

Another way to get more involved with the National Archives is to become a member of the National Archives Foundation. The Foundation supports the work of the agency, especially its education and outreach programs. Visit its website—archivesfoundation.org—to learn more about the Foundation and join online.

The billions of pages and miles of film in the National Archives hold countless stories of our past. Every day, people come to our research rooms and dive into our online catalog to seek out the stories that are meaningful to them.

But anyone who spends significant time doing research comes to realize that there can be stories behind the stories, revealing complexities below the surface.

The photographs that Ernest Withers took during of the 1950s and 1960s became enduring images of the civil rights movement. Yet while he worked closely with the movement’s leaders, he was also an FBI informant. In his new book, Bluff City, Preston Lauterbach examines the work and actions of Ernest Withers with all their complexities.  Acknowledging the assistance of our Special Access FOIA unit, Lauterbach was able to access FBI files to reconstruct that history.

In addition to Bluff City, Preston is also the author of the award-winning Beale Street Dynasty and The Chitlin Circuit, which was a Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe and NPR book of the year. He is a former visiting scholar at Rhodes College and a Virginia Foundation for the Humanities Fellow. He has appeared on numerous NPR talk shows, including On Point, Weekend Edition, and Fresh Air, and contributed to the HBO documentary Elvis: the Searcher. He has also had articles appear in Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, and Oxford American.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Preston Lauterbach.